We just celebrated Canada’s 150th birthday and I couldn’t be more proud! I was in Ottawa on Canada Day and the very special WE Day Canada celebration on July 2nd. WE Day took over Parliament Hill for our first ever WE Day Canada with special guests including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Gord Downie, Lilly Singh, Chris Hadfield, Hedley, Barenaked Ladies and more. WE Day Canada was all about looking ahead toward the next 150 years and inspire people to be a part of building a better, stronger, more compassionate Canada. I was honoured to have been a youth co-host for the day, it was incredible looking out into the crowd and seeing the energy of 25, 000 people being inspired to create change.
It’s got me thinking about how we can commemorate the last 150 years and look towards the next 150 years.
Canada is known around the world as a kind, safe, and peaceful country who treats everyone in Canada equally, no matter what race or culture they are and treats the environment with care. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. But that is why it is fortunate and so amazing to have Canadian based organizations like The WE movement that are providing tools and resources to people of all ages so that they can make a positive impact. When I discovered WE when I was 10 years-old, I was so empowered because I learned that I was not alone and that there were millions of young people taking tangible action that lead to big change. Something else that is special and I was so inspired by about WE is that the organization focuses on both local and global issues.
On WE.ca, there are five themes and issues that WE is focusing on and resources on how we can take action at home. One of the issues that is featured that I have become passionate about is indigenous rights, particularly when it comes to Truth and Reconciliation. I did not learn about residential schools at school, but WE Day last year in Toronto from Gord Downie. It was there that I learned that more than 150 000 Indigenous youth as young as four were forced into federally funded residential schools, torn away from their home, family and culture. This essentially left indigenous families devastated and damaged to this day. More than 30 000 kids died trying to escape. One of them was Chanie Wenjack and his story inspired Gord’s Secret Path project and the creation of the Downie Wenjack Fund. This is such an overwhelming issue and it can be easy to feel helpless and that you can’t make a dent. WE’s campaign, WE Stand Together, is all about starting conversations around indigenous rights and building a stronger and more respectful Canada.
At WE Day Canada one of the most powerful moments of the day was when Gord Downie came onto the stage together with Pearl and Daisy Wenjack. Gord talked about our generation:
“Yours is the first generation in the new and real Canada. I love you. You and yours will make this a true country now. One true to your word. The new 150 years, not the old one. Exciting and true.”
Then Pearl offered a prayer and a the crowd of more than 25 000 people were silent with their heads bowed.
I had a very personal and powerful moment of my own backstage when I had the opportunity to meet Gord. I told him that the first time I heard anyone utter the words, “residential schools”, was at WE Day he spoke and performed songs from Secret Path. I explained to him how impacted I was by that performance. I told him that I did my own research, interviewed and wrote blog posts about Truth and Reconciliation and that I am taking action. He was so attentive and after I thanked him (multiple times) for being such an advocate and inspiration, he bent down and kissed me on my cheek. I was grateful to have had the chance to tell him all of this. That moment with Gord was my highlight of WE Day Canada.
I also had the opportunity to talk with Chief Perry Bellegarde, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations, about some of the actions I’ve been taking including working toward making the Land Acknowledgement something that happens daily at school. At my graduation ceremony earlier this month, my Principal made the Land Acknowledgement part of her opening greetings.
WE takes action on global AND local issues so that my generation, the WE generation, can find support, tools and resources on the issues that we care about – in the world, but also right in our neighbourhood, city or country. In our generation, there are more problems in the world than ever and with support and resources, the youth have the solutions. We are the leaders of today, tomorrow and everyday because we are tuned in, working together and already creating massive change on a variety of issues. When I was 9, I launched WE Create Change at my school and that year, students like me all across Canada collected 140 000 000 pennies to support clean water programs in developing communities. That is the power of our generation. In four short years, I will be able to vote (YES!) and my generation will be able to vote very soon (DOUBLE YES!). If we look at all the change that our generation has created, can you imagine what we be able to do when we can legally vote?
It’s quite difficult for me to contain my excitement around that concept because when we turn 18, we will be able to make legal decisions about what issues we want focused on in our country. But in order to grow and do this, we truly need to be informed about Canada’s history. But it’s not just about waiting to turn 18, it is also about what we can do NOW. We are not too young to understand the issues that are being faced in our communities and around the world. We can learn about them, share what we are learning, take action and inspire those around us.
That is why the WE movement does what it does. That is why at 12 years old, Craig Kielburger spoke in front of his class in 1995, to inspire people to make informed decisions and change the world for the better. That is what inspired me when I found WE and went to my first WE Day. It is what gets me every time – standing on that stage and looking out at 20 000 young people creating change. At WE Day Canada, it was not just young people, it was families and people of all ages – a crowd more than 25 000 strong.
— Hannah Alper (@ThatHannahAlper) July 2, 2017
I know that I want to look toward the next 150 years with pride, joy and compassion. The only way we can do that is with all of our small actions that will add up to big change. Together.
PS. Tomorrow I leave for Kenya on a Me to WE youth trip for 3 weeks. I’ll be back for a few days before I head off to summer camp for the next 3 weeks. This will be my last blog post for a while. I hope that wherever you are and whatever you’re doing for the summer, that you have an amazing time!